My Strong Amma

“Didi, Amma bahut strong hai! Aap kyon kamzor ho rahe ho? Amma theek hai!”

Elder sister, your mother is very strong. Why are you being so weak? Your mother is fine!

Amma’s nurse’s repeated refrains fall on my ears as tears stream down my eyes without even trying. I’m sure she has seen many families go through this and I marvel at her ability to stay so full of life and take such good care of my mother.

She has misread the situation though. My tears are not a sign of weakness. Neither do I consider my mother weak. It’s just that I now desperately wish she would give up on that strength and willpower. I don’t want to tell her to fight and be strong anymore. I want to tell her it’s ok to give up, to let go. But the words just don’t form in my mouth while on the inside, my mind screams them out.

Irrationally I am shouting at Appa on the inside. Why are you letting her suffer, I ask him. Surely now that he is already in the afterlife he can pull some strings? Get a priority business class entry sorted?

Amma opens her eyes and sees me. She recognizes me and calls me “Indu”, a name left behind in my childhood. Then she says the more familiar “Mona” as all my family call me. When the nurse asks my name she says “Indira” and smiles sweetly.

Even in this disoriented state of mind, she sees my tears and repeatedly asks me what happened, why are you here? I rally and go out the room, freshen up and come back smiling. The last thing I want to do is upset her.

When I’m back she is in the 1980s, in the days when we didn’t have 24/7 water supply and repeatedly asks me if the tank is filled up or not.

In the two days I spent with her, Amma has spoken to me more than she has spoken in her entire lifetime.

She asks about my work and says I should go back soon as work is important. She tells me to make sure I give some money to the maids as part of an annual ritual to pay respect to our departed ancestors.

I show her my neice’s kittens who she has adopted as newborns just a few months ago. My mother has over the recent years grown fond of pets. The neighbor’s dog is welcome anytime and she gets belly rubs and lots of love from my Amma, who has never particularly enjoyed peta around the house or encouraged us to have pets.

She is excited about my neice’s wedding in a few months and has a lot of questions for me.

She is on a urine catheter these days but even in this state her sense of personal dignity remains as strong as ever. She keeps trying to get up from the bed and tells her caretaker to help her to the bathroom. Patiently every ten or fifteen minutes, we all take turns to explain the catheter situation and she calms down.

My sister brings her a bowl of fruit and before she is fed even one bite, she is asking the nurse and the caretaker if they had some fruit as well. The nurse tells me that Amma is one of the most considerate patients she has taken care of.

This is probably the worst phase any of us go through. Seeing our loved ones helpless, suffering and not enjoying a reasonable quality of life. And not being able to do a thing about it.

Amma was one of the most active people I knew in my life. Even in her 60s and 70s, up until she had a hip fracture, she gave all of herself to taking care of her family and her household. Seeing her wasting away now is an unbearable sight. And yet this is the circle of life all of us must endure.

All too soon time has flown by and it’s time for me to leave. I wake up bright and early and go to Amma’s room to spend a few more hours with her. She is having trouble this morning staying awake. Her night caretaker says she was busy all night sending her grandchildren to school. I sit for a while in case she does wake up but she’s having trouble even swallowing her morning coffee. Like an infant, she sleeps halfway through drinking her coffee and her caretaker keeps reminding her to swallow.

As I leave, I don’t know if she will even remember my visit. She is regressing often to before Appa passed away, to a time we were small children. She has told my sisters more than once that Appa has left her and is not coming back home. More than anything else, this feeling of abandonment that her addled mind is feeding her upsets me.

I say a prayer, less anger and more pleading this time. I remind Appa of his duties towards his wife. And I leave in the hope that my strong Amma’s sufferings stay as less as possible and that she lives out the rest of her days in as much comfort and love as we can provide her.

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